First Miscanthus seed set to reach the market

Dr Colin Jackson at Cereals

Dr Colin Jackson at Cereals

19 June 2013

Reductions in the propagation and establishment costs of high yielding Miscanthus hybrids are about to be achieved by researchers at IBERS.

Miscanthus, also known as Asian elephant grass, is a ubiquitous Asian grass with some products of breeding and selection having high yields and requiring low inputs. Such products are particularly promising plant for bioenergy development, which is an essential component in finding fossil fuel alternatives.

New seed-based Miscanthus hybrids bred in Texas and Southern Europe with industry partners CERES, Inc are being tested in multiple sites in the UK, Europe and the US this year. The IBERS researchers hope to have pre-commercial seed available for farmers in 2014.  Agronomic methods vary according to the local climatic conditions and an agronomy team has been established to take the new seed-based hybrids from research into the market place as fast as possible.

This is the first time that Miscanthus has been introduced into agriculture as a seed sown crop. The reputation of Miscanthus in the UK has been tarnished by high establishment costs, which have caused market uncertainties for investors and the whole bioenergy chain. Thus the innovation of reducing establishment costs is significant.

This is a substantial development for everyone involved in the development of bioenergy supply chains and in particular the farmers who seek to grow energy crops. The aim is to help provide future security of energy supply and carbon mitigation from displacement of fossil fuels, which are contributing to global warming.

IBERS is the leading UK institution in the development of Miscanthus for bioenergy. Dr John Clifton-Brown, Researcher and Project leader of the Miscanthus breeding programme at IBERS explains: 'seed production systems developed for perennial ryegrass in Aberystwyth are being applied to Miscanthus to reduce establishment costs and provide scalability’.

The Miscanthus breeding programme is currently funded from the Sustainable Renewable Materials LINK (GIANT LINK 2011-2016) and includes the following partners CERES, Blankney Estates, E.ON, Biocatalysts, NFU, Julius Kühn-Institute in Braunschweig and the Universities of Aberdeen and Catania. LINK projects promote collaboration between academic and industry partners in pre-competitive research and bring together key companies and science partners.

This collaborative breeding programme links previous research on Miscanthus at IBERS, funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in 2004-2010 and by Ceres, Inc. an integrated energy crop seed company (from 2007 onwards), to a suite of co-ordinated research projects funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), ETI, NERC and the EU Framework 7 programme.

IBERS showcased current research in the Miscanthus programme along with Beacon and Quoats at Cereals 2013. Beacon is a multimillion pound programme aimed at developing the green economy by helping businesses identify new ways of converting crops such as rye grass, oats and Miscanthus into products such as pharmaceuticals, chemicals, fuels, and cosmetics.

Quoats is a five year research project to develop and apply state-of-the-art tools for oat genetic improvement by addressing key traits that will enhance the value of oats in human health improvement, capitalise on the value of oats as a low input cereal, increase the environmental and economic sustainability of cereal based rotations, realise the potential of oats as a high value animal feed and develop new opportunities for using oats through advanced fractionation.

Cereals is the leading technical event for the UK arable industry and took place in Lincolnshire on 12-13 June 2013.